Surrender to God

November 7, 2010

Apologies for sticking this up “raw”, but i’m learning a lot from Eric MacDonald and i just wanted to get this up somehow. Eric’s interesting even when he’s being flippant:-

Eric MacDonald
October 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm
This is really quite silly. John Haught, for all his wordiness, has no idea how words mean. You can’t just join words together and expect that they will make sense, unless you have some idea what you are saying. But if you read the first quotation that Ophelia gives us, there is no way he could know what he means. Well, on second thought, there is perhaps one interpretation that will make sense of those words.
Faith we are asked to think, is “a state of self-surrender in which one’s whole being, and not just the intellect, is experienced as being carried away into a dimension of reality that is much deeper and more real than anything that can be grasped by science and reason.” ‘Self-surrender’ won’t work here. Surrender has to be made to something, but there is nothing to surrender yourself to. Your whole being, whatever that is, is going to be carried away. How carried away? Carried away, in the sense in which, sometimes you get carried away and do something silly, because you weren’t pay attention? Perhaps. What other meaning could he give to being carried away here? Actually wafted away… what, body and soul too? Do you feel your body being carried away (as you very well might in drug or out of body experience)? Or are you carried away in some other sense? He doesn’t say?
So, now, we are being lofted into another ‘dimension of reality’. Now that really is a puzzle. What would it be like to go into another dimension of reality? What does that even mean? It’s deeper. What — more profound? A pit, maybe? Like falling off a cliff perhaps? That would be for a few moments a very different dimension than most of us have experienced. And it would strike one, I suppose as really real. The impact of such an experience of depth must be very impressive. As Dr. Johnson said about the man about to be hanged: “It would have the effect of concentrating the mind,” he thought (quoting from memory, I fear, so do not rely upon it). Yes, it would probably seem very real, though more real than anything provided by science? No, I don’t think so. As real perhaps as making a discovery of some significance, but not more real. The advantage of the sceintific discovery is that, in most cases, the person experiencing it has longer to enjoy it.
So, yes, I can see where surrendering oneself completely and jumping off a cliff might give someone the experiences that John Haught is thinking about. But that’s really the only experience that I can think of that really fills the bill. I think that’s what he must be talking about. Because even self-surrender works. You would be surrendering yourself to the elements, giving of yourself completely. I don’t know about the dimension of reality, but I can well think that hurtling through the air towards you imminent demise would at least give you a new sense of the urgent reality of life. Yes, I’m sure of it. That’s what he has in mind. Couldn’t be anything else. Jumped off a cliff, poor guy! Imagined it anyway.

Eric MacDonald
October 19, 2010 at 4:56 am
Sastra said, after noting my suggestion that perhaps Haught is talking about jumping off a cliff — which was meant as a joke, by the way — a reductio if you like — that the other possibility is an orgasm. And of course sexual imagery in mysticism is pervasive. In fact, Don Cupitt points out that male mystics seem to know more about female sexuality than they should (hence not, in Bruce Gorton’s sense, rape vibe, but the experience of being raped, and surrendering to the violation and finding it an expression of love, infinite love, even), since men use the imagery of surrender, penetration, etc., as they imagine women to experience sexual ecstasy. (Indeed, Bernini’s famous statue of St. Theresa is surely the image of a woman experiencing orgasm.) But my jumping off the cliff suggestion was meant as a joke. Haught’s description of whatever it is is silly and childish, as Ophelia says.
But Haught’s language would not be out of place in “sophisticated theology.” Andy’s question about the distinction between sophisticated theology and the low hanging fruit that the new atheists are accused of picking is a good one. If you dip at random into theological texts you will come upon language which is as woolly and meaningless as Haught’s attempt to describe a religious experience. For example, opening a volume of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics randomly, I came upon this passage:
The first point we have to make is that in its subjective reality God’s revelation consists of definite signs of its objective reality which are given by God. Among the signs of the objective reality of revelation we have to understand certain definite events and relations and orders within the world in which revelation is an objective reality, and therefore within the world which is also our world, the world of our nature and history. The special determination of these events and relations and orders is that along with what they are and mean within this world, in themselves, and from the standpoint of immanence, they also have another nature and meaning from the side of the objective reality of revelation, i.e., from the side of the incarnation or the Word. Their nature and meaning from this transcendent standpoint is that by them the Word which entered the world objectively in revelation which was spoken once for all into the world, now will to speak further in the world, i.e., to be receive and heard in further areas and ages of this world. …. (Church Dogmatics, I: The Doctrine of the Word of God, Second Half, 223)
I quote at some length, not to bore you, but so that you can see that it doesn’t get better as we move along, but sinks further and further into meaninglessness. What we see is hermeneutic as the willed ‘speaking further’ of the Word to the world in later ages and stages, through the theologian, that is, but with the full intention of the Word. There is an incredibly complex, but largely meaningless, expansion of the meaning of what was first ‘revealed’ (written by men at the beginning of the tradition in the scriptures now collected and made canonical and sacred), and all of this, the original words on paper, and the later expansions of this hermeutically, are, in some sense, to be thought to be purposed in the original communication.
Theology is a deeply compromised intellectual pursuit. It has to assume, within the original text, a communication from beyond, from another dimension of reality, a communication which is both immanent in the world, that is, as a human product, but also, in some sense, and without possibility of confirmation, an objective glimpse into another dimension of reality, signified here by the the word ‘word’, but with a capital ‘W’, hence, Word.
I shan’t carry this futher, but I hope you can get the point. Theology is an impossible activity, because it presumes to speak of that which cannot be spoken of — Karen Armstrong is at least right about this. And since it cannot be spoken of, it cannot be said to exist in any sense of that word. But theologians and religionists of all stripes, even if they take this point of view (which most believers do not), end up trying to express everything in terms of religious experience, but this, quite plainly, is purely immanent, and has no clear reference to anything in another dimension of reality. I have suggested, in another thread, that perhaps we have to leave it at that, and tell believers that they are free to try to come up with evidence that shows that some of these experiences are veridical. I do not think they can, but they should be free to try. My own guess is that what we already know about consciousness and its dependence on the brain means that this attempt is bound to be frustrated, for any religious experience must be, in some sense, associated with a brain state, and this is inevitably a reductive explanation of the experience, which cannot escape the bounds of the brain and its associated mental states unless there is some correlate in the physical or material world which can be empirically verified.

Bruce Gorton
October 19, 2010 at 9:21 am
but the experience of being raped, and surrendering to the violation and finding it an expression of love, infinite love, even
That is where I am getting the whole rape vibe from – its the sort of thing that you can see a rapist imagining is going to happen with the victim.
It is downright creepy.

Eric MacDonald
October 19, 2010 at 11:24 am
Thank you Bruce. Yes, it is downright creepy. Now that I see the context that you had in mind, it is very creepy indeed, as creepy as I felt when I wrote the words you quoted.
But, of course, if you think about it, when you say of any putative god who may have created this universe, that it is good, you are accepting all the horrors of it, and are, then, effectively, consenting to be “fucked.” Because life, on the whole, I think, tends to go badly, and often very badly. There may be moments of joy and wonder, but most people have very few such moments. That was part of the genius of Darwin’s theory, for it explains precisely why things have a tendency to go badly. It’s not about goodness or badness, but merely about an indifferent process that brings us into being and then, in the end, crushes us. So, gather ye rosebuds while ye may.


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